02 July 2013

Tang Hui Reveals Attempt to Mediate Compensation Claim

Earlier today, the Hunan High People's Court heard the appeal of "Petitioning Mother" Tang Hui in the matter of her compensation claim against the Yongzhou Re-education Through Labor (laojiao) Committee. According to an announcement from the court, the hearing concluded with a decision, which will be announced at a later date.

Tang Hui's case and the public furore it created in August 2012 were instrumental in a chain of events leading up to official announcements earlier this year about the government's intention to reform the profoundly problematic laojiao system. (A very comprehensive, if not completely error-free, summary of the Tang Hui case can be found here.)

In advance of this morning's hearing, an interesting article published in the Beijing Youth Daily revealed that court officials had attempted to resolve the case out of court through mediation. (I have translated the relevant excerpt below.)

This is an illustrative account, told from Tang's perspective, of the way in which authorities attempt to use "mediation" to resolve controversies between parties without resorting to a formal judicial process. It seems that court officials nearly had an agreement from Tang (who apparently had no legal counsel in her talks with officials from the provincial high court and local public security bureau). She was willing to concede key demands—having the police put forth evidence that she had actually broken the law, for instance—but the authorities' insistence on keeping the compensation deal private was a non-starter.

It will be interesting to see whether the court is able to produce a comparable outcome by following a more open and adversarial process based in law. Even if the court ruled that the Yongzhou laojiao committee's original decision had been unlawful—a step the lower court had been unwilling to take—it would likely be unable to find legal basis for matching the 100,000-yuan "allowance" offered as part of the mediation settlement.

For Tang Hui, it seems, a non-judicial, negotiated settlement would be considered a just outcome. So would a much smaller judicial decision. The sine qua non of a justice for Tang Hui can be summed up by transposing a famous legal aphorism to slightly different circumstances: "Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done."

* * * *

Beijing Youth Daily (BYD): After your appeal, did anyone from the Hunan High Court come to talk with you?

Tang Hui (TH): Yes. At the end of May, someone from the High Court called me and asked if I’d be willing to participate in out-of-court mediation. At first, I said that if they weren’t sincere I wasn’t interested. The person from the court urged me, saying that they were sincere otherwise they wouldn’t call. I thought it over then agreed.

BYD: When did they begin the mediation with you?

TH: At that time they asked me over the phone if I wanted to go to the provincial court or did I want them to come to Yongzhou for the mediation. I said that you are all officials, and I’d feel uncomfortable making you come to me, so I’ll go to you. After ten minutes or so the person from the court called again to say that they’d come to me. They called in the morning and by four or five in the afternoon, they arrived in Yongzhou.

BYD: How many times did you meet in total?

TH: We met four times over three days. The first day was at about 5 p.m. We met in a UBC Coffee. Five people came from the Hunan High Court. I heard that one of them was the chief judge of the administrative division, two were deputies, one presiding judge, and a court clerk. I asked along some relatives and friends. We met until around 7 p.m. At the time, I wanted to see whether the laojiao committee would hand over evidence that I’d obstructed traffic and insulted officials—didn’t they say that they sent me to laojiao because I’d broken the law? The judges urged me, telling me that it was enough for them to admit their mistakes. So, later I accepted this and didn’t ask them to provide evidence. The next morning, someone from the court called me again and said they only wanted to meet with me, not with my relatives. That time I met with the chief judge and a woman who was a deputy. They said they would get the laojiao committee to apologize to me and promised  me the more than 2000 yuan in compensation that I had requested plus 100,000 yuan as a living allowance. That afternoon, Luo Gongjun, head of the Yongzhou Laojiao Committee General Office, came and said he was there representing the public security bureau and that he had no personal grudge with me. He basically agreed to the three demands, but he mostly wanted to talk with me about the specific wording of the apology. He never said so explicitly at the time, but deep down I felt that he didn’t want me to make public the substance of the mediation.

BYD: Why, after meeting several times, did you not agree to the mediation?

TH: Before meeting on the third day—that day it was Luo Gongjun and someone from the provincial court. Originally, they said that the laojiao committee would show me the wording of the written apology on that day so that I could have a look before deciding on whether to accept the mediation. But that day, the person from the laojiao committee came empty-handed and I didn’t get to see a word. His explanation was that he didn’t bring [the apology] because Director Jiang from the laojiao committee was at a meeting and he hadn’t had a look to sign off on it yet. I knew that this was only an excuse, so I didn’t agree to the mediation.

BYD: Were there other reasons why you didn’t agree to the mediation?
TH: On the third day, before Luo Gongjun arrived, the chief judge from the high court administrative division explicitly told me that I shouldn’t go public about the money I was being given. I said I wasn’t interested. If they were giving me money because they were truly concerned about me and wanting to help me, well that’s something they should be praised for and something that people should know about. I couldn’t accept their money in this murky way.

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